'SFA performance director doesn't have to be Scot or football person'

SCOTTISH Football Association chief executive Stewart Regan has revealed that the organisation's new role of performance director may be filled by a non-Scot with no previous football experience.

Creating the position was one of the recommendations of Henry McLeish's review of Scottish football and is viewed as crucial to the aim of improving the standard of international player produced by the country from youth to elite senior level.

Speculation has persistently linked two former Scotland managers, Craig Brown and Walter Smith, with the job. But Regan, who hopes to make an appointment in time for the start of next season, says the SFA's search will go beyond the traditional boundaries of the Scottish game with the approval of current national team manager Craig Levein.

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"The performance director doesn't have to be a football person and may well come from another sport and another country," said Regan.

"We are recruiting as we speak and casting the net wide, not just into football but lots of other sports where performance is key. We've benchmarked other sports like rugby in New Zealand, cricket in Australia, cycling and rowing in England and football in places like the Netherlands, Serbia, Croatia, Paraguay and Uruguay who all punch above their weight in terms of rankings, compared to population.

"I could probably give you 20 or 30 names from different sports. We are looking at who is out there and who is the best candidate. Craig Levein is very keen to work with this person and they will be a key partner for Craig.

"We are trying to identify a list that will then be put before the board, and a board sub-committee will then interview and appoint. Hopefully we will then have someone in place for the start of the season.

"It could be a non-football person as it's a performance role. It's not about developing football skills. So it takes in things like strength and conditioning, diet, nutrition, sports science, sports psychology, performance analysis, and developing pathways and programmes to make better players. It's what I call the 1 percenters. If you have world-class players, you expect them to be able to play football. The 1 percenters that make a great player into a world-class player are these additional areas.Honing your game and adding in these extras will make that difference."

The perameters within which the performance director will operate have already been approved by the SFA board of directors, something Regan believes is evidence that the key proposals of the McLeish review are being implemented as quickly as possible.

"There have been some comments that we have done nothing since the first part of McLeish was published last April," observed Regan. "That's absolutely not the case. The board have signed off the performance strategy which was put forward. We have commissioned a second piece of work, under the banner of Scotland United, to address four principles of performance strategy.

"The first part is to allow every potential elite performer in Scotland to have 10,000 hours of contact time with the ball. The second core principle is that we want to allow the best to play against the best at all levels. That means looking at league structures, not just the SPL and SFL structures, but the development of youth development leagues which will allow the very best teenagers coming through to play against the best in their bracket.

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"The third area is to develop world-class coaching and coaches. The performance director, and the responsibilities he has, will allow us to develop world-class coaching.

"The fourth key principle is to create something we are calling the New Scotland Way. It is about the programmes and pathways which allow players to evolve and become elite world-class players. That means putting in support structures, like strength and conditioning, sports psychology, sports science, nutrition and performance analysis. Things which are second nature in sports around the world, but which we haven't yet embraced at a national level. In recognising the need for that, it is going to require investment and I'm really pleased the board have approved all of those principles."

The level of that investment will be underpinned by the SFA's own funds, through broadcasting and sponsorship deals, with some assistance from the Scottish government.

Regan, however, conceded that the 500 million headline sum which McLeish suggested would be required to improve facilities and youth development in Scottish football is not achievable in the current financial climate. "With the greatest respect to Henry, he came up with a huge figure and I don't think any of us realistically felt we could get that overnight," added Regan."It is an aspirational figure and I think Henry recognises that it needed to come from not just one source, but a number of different sources.

"We have been incredibly encouraged by conversations we've had with the government since the first part of McLeish came out and we are confident that there will be support from the government to invest in facilities and also programmes which will help with participation in the game.

"The numbers we are talking about, with the financial cutbacks we have had right across the country, are going to be nowhere near the figures Henry quoted.

"It is a mulit-million pound investment that is required every year going forward. The board have recognised there are a number of areas we need to invest in. Facilities is a key one, but also the development of coaches, investment in the whole way we bring players through the system.

"We have already approved and ring-fenced certain funds which will be spent on performance and facilities over the next 12 months. Our strategy will be to continually invest in those things so we deliver this strategy and support the recommendations Henry made.

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"The 500 million is a blue sky number. We will invest whatever we can. We will continually seek support from government, from private sponsors and benefactors, and will also spend our own money better.

"Instead of us being seen as a grant-giving body, which perhaps we have been in the past, we are keen to put some conditions on the money we give out so that it reflects and rewards the behaviour that will develop world class players in the future.

"In addition to some of the money we give to our members, we will also provide incentives which can be achieved by developing home-grown talent and improving the number of qualified coaches.

"We have ring-fenced a small seven-figure sum. It is a very positive statement by the board when other companies, not just in sport, are making cutbacks. We are investing in the long-term future of Scottish football."